Partial Transcript: And we will be talking about the history of Chroma Technology Corporation, his experience as an employee owner and the structure of the company. Would you like to introduce yourself Dick?
Segment Synopsis: Dick was president and production manager from 1991 until 2007; retired in early 2000's, but has come back into sales. Originally from Rochester, NY; enrolled in Mark Hopkins College in Brattleboro; a friend who worked at Omega convinced Dick to come by one day, did an interview and got a job there. The rest is history.
Partial Transcript: When did you start working at Omega?
Segment Synopsis: December 1979; Omega grew quickly; Omega had a sociology professor study and recommend a reorganization; Dick became production manager continuing to do his day job; a lot of people came and went due to Bob Johnson's willingness to fire people; Bob said and did things differently than those he told.
Some time in 1990, Paul told Dick about vague plans/wishes to start their own optics company; Dick's interest grew; Bob half-heartedly encouraged worker projects at Chroma; Bob disclosed the day before that he was going to fire Paul
Partial Transcript: How important was Paul's work to the company at that point?
Segment Synopsis: Paul helped expand Omega's fluorescence microscopy business; other companies were not selling much of the higher end products, so Omega's expansion cut into those markets. Paul eventually got in conflict with a fired manager with no sales experience; it led to Bob wanting to fire Paul, and Dick informed Paul at the time.
Paul's firing from Omega led to the other founder's to leave Omega, who also didn't like Omega, and start Chroma; each founder had an important part to play and each were needed to get Chroma off the ground.
Dick was responsible for informing Omega at large about Paul's dismissal. Bob never offered anything legitimate for the why; before Dick was set to tell the company, he realized he needed to quit. Dick did just that by explaining to Bob and a team of managers all the problems he saw at Omega. The next day Dick started the business plan for Chroma.
Partial Transcript: Had you quit Omega yet at that point?
Segment Synopsis: After Dick quit, he got quickly to work on the business plan;the founders consulted a lawyer about starting a company that would compete with their previous employer, who also wrote of the corporate papers in May 1991;paying the machinist in shares, not dollars.
Partial Transcript: In putting together the corporate papers and beginning the company, when did you guys start the process of identifying that you wanted to be employee owned?
Segment Synopsis: Paul wanted employee ownership at the start; Dick just wanted to make filters either way; Rusty had someone that would pay for Chroma in return for equity shares; the ICA in Boston helped educate the founders on which employee ownership model would work for them. Chroma's model is unique, but required a more elaborate business plan; Chroma's business took off more than expected and soon was making more than they were spending; setting up a contract with a research company helped give them early business and start into the research and clinical markets.
Partial Transcript: Rusty did not end up starting the company. From what you said, it sounded like he backed down from getting his family to own equity and agreed to employee ownership but did he end up joining the company when it was founded?
Segment Synopsis: Rusty helped found Chroma; he was involved in many of the projects in the beginning; Rusty quickly was unhappy with the slow pace by which Chroma initially grew; Wim and Jay left Omega after Dick and Paul; Jay had taken leave from Omega after a large project; Dick had something to do with Wendy and Wim leaving Omega; Bradford Machines helped set up Chroma's chambers to be automated.
Partial Transcript: How long does it take for him to get it automated after that?
Segment Synopsis: It took at least a year and a half to get the some of the production processes automated;Dick had to travel to Bradford machines to get the cubes aligned;first filter was shipped within 6 months of operations
Partial Transcript: Do you want to kind of give like a broader overview of how the nineties developed the company and a date that I'm thinking is up to about 2002 to 2003 to when you moved from Brattleboro up to this building I think.
Segment Synopsis: Hiring and expanding rapidly in the early 90's; the start ups in Brattleboro were failing, so Chroma kept buying up their spaces; annual stock distributions after one year of work became the precedent; all company meetings.
By 1999, Chroma realized it needed to reorganize and restructure; it began to be clear that Chroma needed more space, needed to move their operations: New Hampshire and Bellows Falls, VT were two options and they went to a company vote. Most of the founders owned the shares, and mostly decided to stay in Vermont and move to Bellows Falls.
Partial Transcript: I am curious and in the first ten to first 13 years or so of the company, how did employee ownership--because I understand with you know smaller companies, when you have 10, 15 people, being employer is very apparent because a lot of you are doing a lot of things. But as the company grew, how did the culture of all, how did the feeling of an employee owner kind of permeate the company? And even the new employees, the old employees.
Segment Synopsis: Not everyone liked growth and expansion; there was an apparent relationship to their returns; as the company grew, each of the founders headed the departments respective to their skills; decisions were made on a day to day basis and as needed, which for some people wasn't what they bargained for.
Chroma, is comparably flatter and fairer than a larger hierarchical company. Dick believes the genius of Chroma's model is putting power into the hands those that have worked the longest at the company, which will also lead to its future success; Chroma's tenure is increasingly large.
Partial Transcript: Let's cover anything that sticks out in your mind in the last 15 years, up until now obviously.
Segment Synopsis: The move to Bellows Falls; Rick Holloway and others stepped up to the plate during transition; the rise of the need for more complex coordination/organization of work, called for a pre-steering committee group; the coordinating committee last no more than a year and a half. Dick, once returning from his hiatus, was impressed by the improvements to inventory and sales.
Partial Transcript: Ok, last two questions: do you want to briefly explain to me why you had left for early retirement and then why did you come back, and maybe follow up, why are you staying?
Segment Synopsis: Dick liked the smaller company, as his leadership style best suited it; burn out also affected him. While although he enjoyed his retirement, a mix of the 2007 financial crash and 'looking for the next thing' brought him back to Chroma, a great place to work.